Norwich City’s total football deserved so much more
Results haven’t reflected the standard of City’s performances in recent weeks. No two ways about it.
In theory, four draws yielding just four points isn’t all that much to write home about.
But – and while accepting at this point in my argument that every side in the country can point to examples of ifs and buts as being pivotal in shaping their destiny – when we look at how these last four games have panned out, we certainly can’t be accused of viewing them through yellow and green tinted spectacles by suggesting the City could easily have won three of them.
At Millwall and Reading for instance, but for a lapse in concentration at The Den with virtually the last kick of the game and a blatantly awful refereeing decision at the Madejski, City would now have another four points on the board.
And if points were handed out purely in terms of the balance of play combined with which of the two teams wanted to win the game the most and who had also created the best chances to have done so, Norwich would also have picked up an extra two last Saturday as well.
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You’d take performances like these any day of the week, because you can be sure as night follows day that victories will be inevitable on more occasions than not if they can be maintained.
I have to say that it was almost surreal at times at Carrow Road last week, because there were brief spells when centre-forward Chris Martin was seen defending adeptly at left back, centre-back Elliott Ward dribbling the ball forward out of defence and playing one-twos as he approached the Leeds penalty box, and Wes Hoolahan – who I thought was brilliant when he came on – winning headers on the edge of his own penalty area like a natural central defender.
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Wasn’t the phrase “total football” coined when Cruyff, Neeskens, Krol and the rest of the Dutch masters started to do that sort of thing on a football pitch in the 1970s?
In the second half in particular City were superb.
The players really showed a winning mentality.
They drove themselves forward at times and you could just sense that they fancied their chances of dragging themselves over the finishing line.
The desire in the team was obvious, and some of their approach play was out of the top drawer.
And the Canaries were able to draw strength and confidence from the supporters too, who helped massively by producing an atmosphere inside the stadium that has matched anything here for quite a while.
It was a cracking game of football, but over the course of the 90 minutes City definitely shaded it.
So City boss Paul Lambert was absolutely right to say afterwards that he has been delighted with the quality and effort his side have shown in these four games despite them not having won any of them.
Because it goes without saying that with another six points on the board that they could easily have acquired recently, the Canaries really would be flying high right now.
And as for Sunday, while it is indeed true to say that form can go out of the window to a certain degree when it comes to local derby clashes, given the manner in which City have been going about their business lately compared to how things are unfolding down the road at the moment, I know which of the two dressing rooms I’d rather be sitting in five minutes before kick-off when the bell rings to signal that it’s time to go to work.
• WHEN PLAYING TOWN WAS A SIX-POINT CITY BANKER
Norwich v Ipswich matches. They certainly bring back plenty of memories.
And most of them are satisfying, because in terms of results, I’m pleased to say that during my playing days here we usually did particularly well against the old enemy. They usually seemed to be good for six points each season.
There was one time when we met in the Premiership at Portman Road and the game was screened live on Sky TV. We beat them – naturally – and I was named Man of the Match – naturally – except that I didn’t get to receive my bottle of champagne while being interviewed in the tunnel afterwards as is usually the case.
Oh no, Gunny saw to that. Being the last player left on the pitch milking the applause for all it was worth, naturally the cameras were focused on him, and accordingly they missed me when I went down the tunnel. So they had to grab Gunny to do the interview instead, and I only got my champagne when he came into the dressing room and said: “Here, this is yours.” I must be the only player ever to be named man of the match not to have been interviewed afterwards.
There was also the incident when Ipswich had been awarded a penalty here at Carrow Road and John Wark actually had the ball on the spot ready to take it when the referee caved in to our protests and changed his mind to give us a free-kick.
I can still hear George Burley screaming at the fourth official: “He can’t change his ******* mind, he can’t change his ******* mind!” Oh yes he can, George. Oh yes he can!
It wasn’t all sweetness and light though. I remember one away game when the Ipswich fans invaded the pitch at the final whistle and some of our players were kicked and punched as they tried to leave the field. Not nice (although I didn’t see much of it, I have to say, since I developed a sprinting speed I didn’t know that I had when the final whistle went and they all came running towards us. I think I was back in the dressing room before the ref had actually finished blowing his whistle).
Another time one of my former team-mates from Oldham, Ian Marshall clattered into me barely 20 seconds after the game had started. We had been chatting about old times only 10 minutes earlier in the centre circle, yet as soon as he got the chance he snapped my shinpad clean in half. Fair do’s, I suppose. Business is business.
And no-one can forget Gunny’s air shot! I didn’t even see that either! When Rob Ullathorne played the ball back to Gunny I actually turned around and started running upfield for the expected clearance.
• SHEARER’S CRITICISM OF CAPELLO IS A BIT RICH
Interesting to read that Alan Shearer reckons that under Fabio Capello England haven’t moved forward at all.
He may indeed have a point.
But as for criticising managerial decisions, tactics, formations and motivation, don’t you think it’s a bit rich coming from someone who ensured that his beloved team Newcastle United actually took a massive backward step when they were relegated from the top flight under his leadership a couple of seasons ago?
And just a quick word for the referees in Scotland who might go on strike this weekend.
Why not do us a favour will you chaps and see if your mates down here in England wouldn’t mind joining in with you for a while to show their support.
I’m sure that we could carry on just fine without them.